Luxury Car Saleswoman – Mentor, Judy Weakley
This mentor has over twenty years experience in automobile sales and has consistently been one of the top producers at the dealership where she works as well as in the top ten percent of all auto salespeople nationally. In her article, she talks about how she approaches auto sales by first selling herself and establishing rapport with her customers. Her experience is similar to other YPNG mentors who have been successful in sales. All say that people generally form business relationships with salespeople they come to like and trust. Because of her integrity and interest in her customers, this mentor has been able to build a large book of repeat business as well as a strong referral business. Compensation in auto sales is primarily from commissions and requires a good work ethic to be successful. But the average salesperson who has established themselves in this profession is paid more than twice the average of other types of retail sales and the top sales people like this mentor earn six figure incomes. Her article should be of interest to anyone considering automobile sales as a career as well as any other kind of sales position where establishing strong, personal relationships with customers is key to long term success.
When I graduated from high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. My mother and my father, who was a Colonel and pilot in the Air Force, let me attend a two-year school in Mississippi where besides academics we were also taught good manners and how to behave in social situations. Back then this school was referred to as a finishing school and was one of the last vestiges of the old South. When I graduated, I transferred my credits to my father’s alma mater, the University of Kentucky, where I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Education. I then got my first job teaching at a rural school in Kentucky just south of Cincinnati. I loved that year of teaching, but wanted to travel and applied for a job as a flight attendent with American Airlines . I was accepted and entered their six-week training program after I completed the school year. During my time with the airline, I met and married my husband. I flew for American for a total of six years until I started my family and then spent the next 18 years raising my two children.
One day when I was taking my car in for service, I was asked if I had ever consider auto sales because of my experience as a flight attendant where you had to be great with people. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. Auto sales was something I had never considered. But my oldest child was leaving for college and I thought it was something I now had the time to try. I did know anything about auto sales. I didn’t even put gas in my own car. So I saw it as a challenge. I was their first and only women salesperson for many years and from the start became one of their top salespeople.
How I Approach Auto Sales
I have always felt the best way to succeed in this kind of sales position where you are dealing with individuals of all ages and backgrounds was to first sell yourself to the customer. I tried to sell myself and build relationships by listening to my customers and what they wanted in a vehicle and by helping them find the right model. I also wanted them to feel that they could trust me. In previous years people came into auto dealerships unable to get the kind of information on a car that you can now get over the Internet. That limited information made it more difficult for a customer to know if they were getting a fair price. I was always honest with my customers about pricing and sometimes showed them our cost so they knew we were dealing fairly with them Until recently, I also did the delivery myself and made sure they knew how to operate all the features on the vehicle. I also contact each customer a few days after they take delivery of the car to make sure they are enjoying it and receive the service from my dealership they expected. If they are not happy with something, I intervene and get the problem solved. Things have changed a little in that we now have delivery specialists-who now go over the features of the vehicle with the customer so salespeople can spend more time selling. But I still do follow up calls after deliveries and stay in contact with my customers to make sure they are happy with their car and our service.
As my book of repeat customers grew, I also got more and more referrals. This is now almost as important a part of my business as repeat sales. To show my appreciation for my customers referring me to their friends, I always send a thank you card with a $100.
I am very respectful of the other salespeople when handling new customers. I do take turns with the other salespeople handling customers who walk into the dealership and I also attend the annual local auto shows where my dealership has a large display. I have found these shows to be a greart source of new business. People attending these shows generally are interested in buying a new car.
Besides receiving a commission for selling the car, there is also a commission paid if a customer uses our dealership’s financing programs including company lease programs. Traditional financing is normally just a matter of determining if our interest rate is competitive. Our company is normally able to keep our rates in line with banks and finance companies. But leases require more analysis than just understanding the implicit interest rate. For example, leases have advantages for people with businesses who can write off all or part of the lease payments. Since many people like to trade their cars every two or three years, leases also offer the benefit of knowing what the residual value is when your lease expires so you don’t have to worry about trade in value. You also have the option of a one-pay lease where you save money on interest by making the entire lease payment up front and let the rest of our money accrue interest. Depending on different factors like actual mileage, condition and demand for a particular model, the car may actually be worth more than the residual value. If it is, I work with the customer to see they get the benefit of this equity if possible when they purchase or lease another car.
Anyone who is a customer of an auto dealership should also know that it is the sales manager who determines the sales price for a vehicle and not the sales person. All the final offers have to be approved by the sales manager.
At our dealership, all of us can sell both new and pre-owned cars. Most of our pre-owned Lexus vehicles are “Certified”. This means they have gone through a 161 point inspection and all service is brought up to date. The Certified vehicles consequently offer three year or the balance of a100,000 mile warranty.
Lexus always keeps their professional educated on everything related to new models. We attend training sessions that are sometimes done at the regional offices but more recently trainers have been coming to our dealership when new models are introduced. After three years of tenure, you are certified as a Master Certified Sales Consultant and receives incentives including a bonus that can go towards a vehicle lease.
Trends in the Business
The Internet means that more and more people now come into the dealership knowing what car they want including the features they are looking for as well as having a good idea about the car’s pricing. In the future there is talk that the market may eventually go to a one-stop pricing. This means it is more important than ever to be able to build a personal relationship with your customer and for your dealership to have a good service department and other ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. For example, we have a loaner car program that are always washed and vacuumed. If you decide to pursue this career, the quality of your dealership is going to be a key factor in your success.
The trend is now to have a college degree to be hired for most new car sales positions at Lexus dealers and the trend seems to happening at other dealers as well. It doesn’t matter what your major is. But because these are well paying jobs for those who can build a book of repeat business and referrals like I have been able to do, the dealers have found that they can attract enough college graduates to fill these sales positions. As time goes on, I expect there will be fewer and fewer dealerships willing to hire someone without a college degree for luxury sales positions.
- One of the things I like the most about this career is the building of life long relationships with my clients. Many of them have become life long friends.
- I also enjoy the camaraderie of the people who work with me. At the dealership where I work, all of us try to help each other and there is a congenial atmosphere among the sales people.
- I also like the idea that you get paid for performance. If you work hard you can build your own book of business, which allows you to build and stabilize your income through repeat business and referrals.
- There are other ways to make money including commissions from leasing and financing as well as performance bonuses.
- But the hours can be long. My normal weekly hours are from 8 to 5 or 11 to 8 and also get three day weekends.
- You are on commission. But we do get a paid vacation. But if one of your customers or a referral comes on the floor and ask for you and you are not there, you are still entitled to half of the commission. All of us help each other when one of us is gone.
I enjoy being auto saleswoman immensely. I am always meeting new people and have developed long-term business and personal relationships with many customers and with my colleagues who I would not have met any other way. I have always had a strong work ethic and I like that auto sales rewards you for your efforts. The industry is changing and I believe more of the competition is going to be based on personal service. If you decide to go into this business, look for dealerships where management emphasizes personal service and build your business by maintaining strong personal relationships with your customers.
Salary Statistics for Car Sales Consultants
The US Department of Labor does not break out salary statics for automobile salespeople but lumps them in with other retail sales positions. There are a number of private surveys done by employment services and industry groups that give salary ranges for what these surveys term Car Sales Consultants. But many of these surveys have relatively small samples. The one source that seems to have the best sampling is a site called Simply Hired that does their survey on the basis of employer surveys. Their most recent survey of new car sales in 2015 showed average earnings for a new car sales consultant to be $71,000. Earnings varied by region with the highest earning on the East and West costs and lower earning in the Midwest and Northern plains.
Here is an excerpt from an article by Rick Suttle, Demand Media and a link to that article discussing auto sales compensation levels and the sources he used to obtain that information:
“Car sales consultants often have compensation packages that include salary, commissions and bonuses. For example, Ford Motor sales reps earned an average base salary of $37,000, according to Glassdoor -- with the rest of their $54,600 in earnings comprised of commissions and benefits. Some car dealerships may pay their reps $2,500 or $3,000 per month, while others offer a draw against commissions. A draw against commission enables reps to earn weekly salaries when they don't sell cars. When reps exceed their quotas, they receive 100 percent in commissions. Most have high school diplomas, although some dealerships may prefer hiring reps with bachelor's degrees.” (Editor’s Note: Dealers normally only pay weekly salaries for the first six months. Compensation for auto sales is usually just commissions.)